Yield to Oncoming Traffic, Grower Dog


In my consulting work, I see all too often the all-powerful winemaker lording his position over the defenseless grower in order to impress his clueless owner-boss, forcing half the crop to be dropped from perfectly balanced vines and resulting in shitty quality. It's positively feudal!

What's really missing is a spirit of cooperation between growers and wineries -- what's good for each is good for all. The grower is the guy who shows up in the vineyard every morning, thus a resource worth cultivating. This isn't 1970. More and more, the good growers are coming to understand wine quality concerns and to be in a better position to make the vine balance call than the winemaker, particularly if his experience is in another climate.

Jeff Miller of Seven Artisans did a great job of talking sense about this issue, and I can only suggest you run over and read it. Thanks, Jeff, for a very well articulated discussion which winemakers are willing to cop to far too seldom. More often than not, less is just less, both in yield and quality.

As a simple example, a well-taken-care-of vineyard has a higher yield per acre simply because all the vines are alive and bearing. Growers shouldn't be penalized for this, nor rewarded for uneven and dilapidated stands by brain-dead critics and eno-geeks focused on a tons-per-acre number like some stockbroker reading tickertape.

If this business isn't about team playing, about forging long-term relationships where each player has a stake and a role, then we should all just go sell insurance. Winemakers need to learn a little humility and quit hogging the ball.

Every year a winery and a vineyard cooperate and get to know each other, the quality automatically goes up and the waste goes down. There's gold in them there relationships. The smart winemaker today will find sharp grower partners and give them the respect they deserve.




Jeffrey Miller:

Clark: Thanks for the post, and the link to my post on the subject. I couldn't agree more with your view that reducing yields automatically gives better quality is “brain dead”. I also agree that better cooperation between the grower and vintner is the key to better wine quality. I would add that I think the cooperation should take the form of the vintner expressing his parameters for what he wants from the grapes, so that he can make the style of wine he wants. After that, unless he’s not getting the results he wants, he should leave it to the grower to do his job. Vintners are not growers—their expertise is in the winery. They may know a little something about grapegrowing, but “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. What knowledge the vintner has concerning viticulture is going to be, at best, incomplete, and, at worst, downright wrong.